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The language of fundraising: A primer for NFP board members

Not-for-profit board members need to wear many hats for the organization they serve. Every board member begins their term with a different set of skills, often chosen specifically for those unique abilities. As board members, we often assist the organization in raising money and as such, it is important for all members of the board to be fluent in the language of fundraising. Here are some basic definitions you need to know, and the differences between them.

Gifts with donor restriction

While many organizations can use all donations for their operating costs, many donors prefer to specify how―or when―they can use the donation. Gift restrictions come in several forms:

1. Purpose-restricted gifts are, as their name implies, for a specific use. These can be in response to a request from your organization for that specific purpose or the donor can indicate its purpose when they make the gift. Consider how you solicit gifts from donors to be sure you don’t inadvertently apply restrictions. Not all gifts need to (or even should) be accepted by an organization, so take care in considering if specific restrictions are in line with your mission. 
2. Time-restricted gifts can come with or without a restricted purpose. You can treat gifts for future periods as revenue today, though the funds would be considered restricted for use until the time restrictions have lapsed. These are often in the form of pledges of gifts for the future, but can also be actual donations provided today for use in coming years.
3. Some donors prefer the earnings of their gift be available for use, while their actual donation be held in perpetuity. These are often in the form of endowments and specific restrictions may or may not be placed by the donor on the endowment’s earnings. Laws can differ from state-to-state for the treatment of those earnings, but your investment policy should govern the spending from these earnings.


The bottom line? Restricted-purpose gifts must be used for that restricted purpose.

Gifts without donor restriction

Gifts without donor restriction are always welcome by organizations. The board has the ability to direct the spending of these gifts, and may designate funds for a future purpose, but unlike gifts with donor restrictions, the board does have the discretion to change their own designations.

Whether raising money or reviewing financial information, understanding fundraising language is key for board members to make the most out of donations. See A CPA’s guide to starting a capital campaign and Accounting 101 for development directors blogs for more information. Have questions or want to learn more? Please contact Emily Parker or Sarah Belliveau.

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